CHICAGO — There is now a generation of fans who look up at the roof of the “Friendly Confines” and don’t think anything of what they see.
The six banks of lights located on top of Wrigley Field are an accepted part of the ballpark as is playing night baseball at the venue. Some of the most historic moments over the last three decades have come when the park was illuminated by electric light.
That wasn’t the case 34-years-ago Monday: August 8, 1988.
For many at that time, the idea of anything other than the sun lighting up games at Clark and Addison was considered sacrilegious. It was the subject of battles in the courts of public opinion and law along with local government as the Cubs’ Tribune Company owners went toe-to-toe with residents in the neighborhood.
It almost forced the Cubs to abandon Wrigley Field for the suburbs, but it never happened. A deal was eventually struck and the new addition to the ballpark went on the roof.
On “8/8/88,” the lights, along with a new era in baseball, were introduced to Cubs fans and the world on WGN-TV.
A playoff-like atmosphere was around the ballpark as a sellout crowd made their way to “Wrigleyville” on a Monday evening to see a Cubs team that was well out of contention. They were finishing a four-game series with the Phillies that night, entering the contest 13 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Eastern division.
There were still a number of fans around the ballpark who were still unhappy that night baseball would be played at Wrigley Field for the first time in 74 seasons. “No Lights in Wrigley Field” t-shirts and signs popped up here and there in Lakeview that evening.
The weather was sweltering in the Chicago area that day, with the high temperature at O’Hare Airport being registered at 98 degrees. It was officially 91 degrees at first pitch, but that didn’t stop WGN talent like sports director Dan Roan from wearing tuxedoes at the ballpark for the occasion.
Legendary play-by-play announcer Harry Caray was not in a full tuxedo as he had the call on Channel 9 for the evening’s festivities. Actor and comedian Bill Murray joined him in the booth for part of the broadcast.
Before play could get started, the lights had to be turned on — and there was a moment for that.
Harry Grossman, a 91-year-old lifelong Cubs’ fan, was given the honor of ceremonially turning on the lights at Wrigley Field for that evening’s contest.
“A one….a two….a three….Let…There…Be…Light!” said Grossman as he led the crowd in a Caray-like countdown before pushing the button as the lights flickered on.
Rick Sutcliffe had the honor of starting the game for the Cubs as he delivered the first pitch to catcher Damon Berryhill with Phil Bradley at the plate around 7:05 PM. On the fourth pitch of the game, the Philadelphia left fielder slammed a home run onto Waveland Avenue to put his team up 1-0.
The Cubs got it back and more in the bottom half of the inning as Mitch Webster hit a leadoff single off Kevin Gross, then Ryne Sandberg followed that with a two-run homer into the left field bleacher to make it 2-1.
Rafael Palmeiro would drive in another run for the Cubs on a single to right in the third inning as Sandberg scored to make it 3-1. Sutcliffe would then strike out Steve Jeltz to end the fourth inning, but that’s as far as this first night game would go.
The skies opened up as a major thunderstorm hit the Chicago area and quickly drenched the field and fans with rain. Hopeful to get the game in, the wait was on to see if the rain would stop — and that was too much for a few members of the Cubs.
During the delay, pitchers Les Lancaster, Greg Maddux, and Al Nipper along with catcher Jody Davis slid on the tarp as they were waiting for the game to be stopped. Each took a few times to slide across the tarp, much to the delight of the fans that were waiting out the delay in the park.
But the rain never stopped and eventually, it was postponed to September 5th as part of a doubleheader. All of the things that happened in the first three-and-a-half innings were wiped from the record, and August 8th would technically not be the first Cubs’ night game in history.
The Cubs’ first official night game would come on the next evening – August 9, 1988 – when the New York Mets arrived in town for a nationally televised contest called by the late Vin Scully.
In another contest with a few memorable moments, including Mets center fielder Lenny Dykstra getting a beer shower from the bleachers on a Davis RBI double in the seventh inning, the Cubs won it 6-4 in front of 36,399 fans under the lights at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs would play seven total games at night in 1988 and would start out with 18 per year in 1989 when they first hosted a postseason game under the lights in the National League Championship Series against the Giants.
Slowly, the number of night games has crept up over the years as night baseball has become an accepted part of the Wrigley Field experience. In fact, the Cubs are hosting a night game on Monday night, the 34th anniversary of the lights going on.
Safe to say it will feel a little different around the park on that night as compared to August 8, 1988.